Though they often took a back seat to their sister group Parliament, Funkadelic furthered the notions of Black rock begun by Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone, blending elements of ’60s psychedelia and blues plus the deep groove of soul and funk. The band pursued album statements of social/political commentary while Parliament stayed in the funk singles format, but Funkadelic nevertheless paralleled the more commercial group’s success, especially in the late ’70s when the interplay between bands moved the Funkadelic sound closer to a unified P-Funk style.
In the grand soul tradition of a backing band playing support before the star takes the stage, Funkadelic began life supporting George Clinton’s doo wop group, the Parliaments. After having performed for almost ten years, the Parliaments had added a rhythm section in 1964 — for tours and background work — consisting of guitarist Frankie Boyce, his brother Richard on bass, and drummer Langston Booth; two years later, the trio enlisted in the Army. By mid-1967, Clinton had recruited a new backing band, including his old friend Billy "Bass" Nelson (born January 28, 1951, Plainfield, New Jersey) and guitarist Eddie Hazel (born April 10, 1950, Brooklyn, New York). After several temporary replacements on drums and keyboards, the addition of rhythm guitarist Lucius “Tawl” Ross (born October 5, 1948, Wagram, North Carolina) and drummer Ramon “Tiki” Fulwood (born May 23, 1944, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) completed the lineup.
The Parliaments recorded several hits during 1967, but trouble with the Revilot label backed Clinton into a corner. He hit upon the idea of deserting the Parliaments’ name and instead recording their backing group, with the added vocal “contributions” of the former Parliaments — same band, different name. Billy Nelson suggested the title Funkadelic, to reflect the members’ increased inspiration from LSD and psychedelic culture. Clinton formed the Funkadelic label in mid-1968 but then signed the group to Detroit’s Westbound label several months later.
Released in 1970, Funkadelic’s self-titled debut album listed only producer Clinton and the five members of Funkadelic — Hazel, Nelson, Fulwood, and Ross plus organist Mickey Atkins — but also included all the former Parliaments plus several Motown sessionmen and Rare Earth’s Ray Monette. Keyboard player Bernie Worrell also appeared on the album uncredited, even though his picture was included on the inner sleeve with the rest of the band.
Worrell (born April 19, 1944, Long Beach, New Jersey) was finally credited on the second Funkadelic album (1970′s Free Your Your Ass Will Follow). He and Clinton had known each other since the early ’60s, and Worrell soon became the most crucial cog in the P-Funk machine, working on arrangements and production for most later Parliament/Funkadelic releases. His strict upbringing and classical training (at the New England Conservatory and Juilliard), as well as the boom in synthesizer technology during the early ’70s, gave him the tools to create the horn arrangements and jazz fusion-inspired synth runs that later trademarked the P-Funk sound. Just after the release of their third album, Maggot Brain, P-Funk added yet another big contributor, Bootsy Collins. The throbbing bassline of Collins (born October 26, 1951, Cincinnati, Ohio) had previously been featured in James Brown’s backing band, the J.B.'s (along with his brother, guitarist Catfish Collins). Bootsy and Catfish were playing in a Detroit band in 1972 when George Clinton saw and hired them.
The Clinton/Worrell/Collins lineup premiered on 1972′s America Eats Its Young, but soon after its release several original members left the camp. Eddie Hazel spent a year in jail after a combination drug possession/assault conviction, Tawl Ross left the band for medical reasons relating to an overdose of LSD and speed, and Bill Nelson quit after more financial quarrels with Clinton. Funkadelic hired teenaged guitar sensation Michael Hampton as a replacement, but both Hazel and Nelson would return for several later P-Funk releases.
Funkadelic moved to Warner Bros. in 1975 and delivered its major-label debut, Hardcore Jollies, one year later to lackluster sales and reviews. The same year, Westbound raided its vaults and countered with Tales of Kidd Funkadelic. Ironically, the album did better than Hardcore Jollies and included an R&B Top 30 single, “Undisco Kidd.” In 1977, Westbound released The Best of the Early Years while Funkadelic recorded what became its masterpiece (and arguably the best P-Funk release ever), 1978′s One Nation Under a Groove.
During the most successful year in Parliament/Funkadelic history, Parliament hit the charts first with “Flash Light,” P-Funk’s first R&B number one. “Aqua Boogie” would hit number one as well late in the year, but Funkadelic’s title track to One Nation Under a Groove spent six weeks at the top spot on the R&B charts during the summer. The album, which reflected a growing consistency in styles between Parliament and Funkadelic, became the first Funkadelic LP to reach platinum (the same year that Parliament’s Funkentelechy vs. the Placebo Syndrome did the same). In 1979, Funkadelic’s “(Not Just) Knee Deep” hit number one as well, and its album (Uncle Jam Wants You) reached gold status.
At just the point that Funkadelic appeared to be at the top of their powers, the band began to unravel. As is sometimes the case, commercial success began to dissolve several old friendships. In 1977, original Parliaments members Fuzzy Haskins, Calvin Simon, and Grady Thomas had left the P-Funk organization to record on their own. In early 1981, they hit the R&B charts with a single called “Connections and Disconnections,” recorded as Funkadelic. To confuse matters more, the original Funkadelic appeared on the charts at the same time, with the title track to The Electric Spanking of War Babies.
During 1980, Clinton began to be weighed down by legal difficulties arising from Polygram’s acquisition of Parliament’s label, Casablanca. Jettisoning both the Parliament and Funkadelic names (but not the musicians), Clinton began his solo career with 1982′s Computer Games. He and many former Parliament/Funkadelic members continued to tour and record throughout the ’80s as the P-Funk All Stars, but the decade’s disdain of everything to do with the ’70s resulted in critical and commercial neglect for the world’s biggest funk band, especially one that, in part, had spawned the sound of disco. During the early ’90s, the rise of funk-inspired rap (courtesy of Digital Underground, Dr. Dre, and Warren G.) and funk rock (Primus and Red Hot Chili Peppers) reestablished the status of Clinton and company, one of the most important forces in the recent history of Black music. While they continued to perform in permutations, there were occasional archival releases, such as By Way of the Drum (a shelved 1989 recording; 2007) and Toys (previously unissued Westbound-era sessions; 2008). In 2014, they released the all-new First Ya Gotta Shake the Gate, which clocked in at a whopping 200 minutes — roughly the same length as the sum of the band’s first five albums. ~ John Bush